A Ladder to the Sky
Goodreads ratings
4.21 / 5

"A Ladder to the Sky" Summary

By John Boyne

fiction | 366 pages | Published in NaN

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent - but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own. Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful - but desperately lonely - older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel. Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall...


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A writer's ruthless ambition drives him to ethically questionable lengths in his quest for success.


"A Ladder to the Sky" is a captivating novel written by John Boyne, the acclaimed author of "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas." This thrilling and thought-provoking book takes readers on a journey through the life of an aspiring writer named Maurice Swift. With a captivating plot and well-developed characters, Boyne explores themes of ambition, manipulation, and the lengths some individuals will go to achieve success.

Brief Synopsis

The story begins in Berlin in the late 1980s, where we meet Maurice Swift, a young and charming writer who is determined to make a name for himself in the literary world. He meets renowned author Erich Ackermann in a hotel bar and, after impressing him with his storytelling ability, Maurice becomes his protégé.

As Maurice's writing career begins to take off, he realizes that he lacks the talent to write a truly great novel. Instead of accepting this, he resorts to manipulation and deceit to achieve success. He betrays the trust of those around him, stealing their stories and using them as his own.

The narrative takes us through different time periods and locations, including London and the United States, as Maurice's literary ambitions continue to drive him. Along the way, he encounters a cast of characters who become entangled in his web of deceit, including his wife, Edith, and a struggling writer named Dash Hardy.

Main Characters

Maurice SwiftA charming and ambitious writer who will stop at nothing to achieve success.
Erich AckermannA renowned author who becomes Maurice's mentor.
EdithMaurice's wife, who becomes increasingly suspicious of his motives.
Dash HardyA struggling writer who becomes entangled in Maurice's deceitful schemes.

Summary of Different Story Points

Part I: The Ackermann Section

In this section, Maurice meets Erich Ackermann in Berlin and manipulates him into sharing his life story. He uses this material to write his first successful novel, which launches his career.

Part II: The Clever Boy

Maurice moves to London and becomes a highly sought-after writer, but he still yearns to write a truly great novel. He meets Edith, a married woman, and they embark on a passionate affair. Maurice sees an opportunity in Edith's husband, David, who is a successful writer. He manipulates David into sharing his life story, which he plans to use for his next novel.

Part III: The Whole Truth

Maurice's deceit catches up with him as his relationship with Edith begins to deteriorate. He also encounters Dash Hardy, a struggling writer who suspects Maurice's plagiarism. Dash confronts Maurice, leading to a series of events that expose Maurice's true nature and his unethical actions.

Part IV: The Ladder to the Sky

In the final section, Maurice's past catches up with him, and he is forced to confront the consequences of his actions. The novel explores the limits of ambition and the price one must pay for success.

Main Events

  1. Maurice meets Erich Ackermann and manipulates him into sharing his life story.
  2. Maurice achieves success with his first novel, which is based on Ackermann's story.
  3. Maurice starts an affair with Edith and manipulates her husband, David.
  4. Maurice's relationship with Edith deteriorates, and he encounters Dash Hardy.
  5. Dash confronts Maurice about his plagiarism, leading to a series of events that expose Maurice's unethical actions.
  6. Maurice faces the consequences of his deceitful behavior.

Themes and Insights

Ambition and Success

The novel delves into the dark side of ambition, exploring how it can lead individuals to compromise their morals and manipulate others to achieve success. Maurice's relentless pursuit of fame and recognition drives him to commit unethical acts, ultimately leading to his downfall.

Manipulation and Deception

The book raises questions about the morality of manipulating and deceiving others for personal gain. Maurice's actions highlight the lengths some individuals are willing to go to achieve their goals, even if it means betraying the trust of those around them.

Art and Authenticity

"A Ladder to the Sky" explores the idea of originality in art and the ethical responsibility of writers to create their own stories. It raises questions about the value of authenticity and the consequences of stealing others' experiences for personal gain.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Ladder to the Sky" is a gripping and thought-provoking novel that shines a light on the dark side of ambition. Boyne's skillful storytelling and complex characters make for a compelling read. This book serves as a cautionary tale, reminding readers of the importance of integrity and the high cost of deceit.


In "A Ladder to the Sky," John Boyne masterfully weaves a tale of ambition, manipulation, and the pursuit of success. Through the character of Maurice Swift, Boyne explores the lengths some individuals will go to achieve their dreams, even at the expense of others. This novel serves as a powerful reminder of the consequences of unethical behavior and the importance of staying true to oneself. With its engaging plot and thought-provoking themes, "A Ladder to the Sky" is a must-read for fans of literary fiction.

A Ladder to the Sky FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    The genre of 'A Ladder to the Sky' is fiction.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    The author of 'A Ladder to the Sky' is John Boyne.

  3. What is the main plot of 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    The main plot of 'A Ladder to the Sky' follows the story of a young and ambitious writer named Maurice Swift, who will do whatever it takes to achieve literary success, even if it means betraying the people who helped him along the way.

  4. Is 'A Ladder to the Sky' part of a series?

    'A Ladder to the Sky' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.

  5. Is 'A Ladder to the Sky' suitable for young readers?

    'A Ladder to the Sky' is primarily targeted towards adult readers due to its mature themes and content.

  6. Are there any trigger warnings for 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    Trigger warnings for 'A Ladder to the Sky' include manipulative behavior, betrayal, and themes of exploitation.

  7. Where is 'A Ladder to the Sky' set?

    'A Ladder to the Sky' is set in various locations across Europe, including Germany, France, and England.

  8. What is the writing style of 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    The writing style of 'A Ladder to the Sky' is engaging and character-driven, with a focus on the moral complexities of the protagonist's actions.

  9. Does 'A Ladder to the Sky' have any notable awards or recognition?

    'A Ladder to the Sky' was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award in 2019 and received critical acclaim from various literary publications.

  10. Is there a film adaptation of 'A Ladder to the Sky'?

    As of now, there is no film adaptation of 'A Ladder to the Sky'.